Midweek Mental Greening

Although I don’t live near it anymore, one of the things I love about my old city’s community mental health center is the center’s greenhouse. The center’s patients, or clients, grow and sell the flowers, ferns, and other plants within the greenhouse and any money raised goes toward the continuing operation of the center’s various programs.

I don’t have any firsthand experience with the center’s greenhouse (although I do keep promising myself to stop in the next time I’m in the city), but I’ve heard great things about it. Of course, that’s not surprising. We already know how mentally and emotionally beneficial activities like gardening can be (and if you need a refresher course, check out Thrive’s Carry on Gardening website, including the group’s Harnessing the Mood-Boosting Power of Gardening leaflet).

I’ve seen and read about numerous other projects similar to the one my former city’s community mental health center runs. Some mental health centers operate greenhouses packed with flowers, ferns, and other plants while others, like Anderson, Indiana’s Center for Mental Health’s community-supported agriculture farm (which, incidentally, was just awarded the 2009 Award of Excellence in Community Collaboration by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare in San Antonio, Texas) manage vegetable gardens.

My point is this isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s one that’s spreading across the world, and for good reason.

What is new, however (well, to me anyway) is a new study from England’s University of Bristol and University College London. According to Medical News Today:

UK scientists suggest that a type of friendly bacteria found in soil may affect the brain in a similar way to antidepressants.

Their findings are published in the early online edition of the journal Neuroscience.

Researchers from Bristol University and University College London discovered using laboratory mice, that a “friendly” bacteria commonly found in soil activated brain cells to produce the brain chemical serotonin and altered the mice’s behaviour in a similar way to antidepressants.

Whoa… Friendly bacteria in the dirt acting similarly to antidepressants? Could this be (at least one of) the reasons many people find gardening so calming and relaxing? Very interesting.

What do you think? Are you a gardener who reaps the mental and emotional benefits from getting your hands a little dirty? Do you attribute these benefits to the gardening itself, or could there also be some “friendly bacteria” at work?